China has begun construction of a Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in a remote part of the Guizhou province in southern China.
When completed it will be the most advanced telescope of its kind. It will have 3x the capabilities of the Arecibo telescope currently the largest, (300m Dia.), Radio Telescope in the world.
FAST’s main spherical reflector will be composed of 4,600 panels. A system of motors attached to the 4600 panels will allow astronomers to change its shape from a sphere to a paraboloid, making it easier to move the position of the telescope’s focus. This will allow the south-pointing telescope to cover a broad swathe of the sky — up to 40 degrees from its zenith, compared to the 20-degree-wide strip covered by Arecibo. Able to see further into space than the Arecibo telescope, astronomers predict FAST will uncover new galaxies and deep-space objects of a distance of up to 7 billion light years away.
The new telescope will sit in a natural depression that already is close to the shape of the collecting surface, simplifying the support structure and shielding the telescope from stray human-generated radio waves. The location is quite remote, making it unusually radio-quiet, says Nan Rendong, FAST chief scientist and a researcher from the National Astronomical Observatories at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “The FAST science impact on astronomy will be extraordinary,” Nan said, adding that although the telescope is located in China, once it is completed it will be open to astronomers from around the world.
The project, costing more than 700 million yuan (102.3 million U.S. dollars), will allow international astronomers and scientists to discover more of the secrets of the universe based on cutting-edge technologies, said Zhang Haiyan, an NAO official in charge of construction.
Construction on the project began in March 2011, and should be completed by September 2016.